A New Space Typology: Designing for the Self-Driving Car Industry
Claudia Salazar in driverless cars

Video/ graphics © Yng Yng Marshall/ Gensler.

Silicon Valley has become an epicenter for perfecting technology that will transform society as we know it—from keeping people safe, to reclaiming our streets, to gaining back our time. In the race to put the first fully autonomous vehicles on the road, tech companies are partnering with automakers, acquiring startups and hiring talent to build these next-generation vehicles. This pivotal moment has created the need for a new type of space: self-driving car labs—hybrid workspace/lab/garage/showrooms—aimed at revolutionizing an industry within a decade. Working with several technology and manufacturing companies, Gensler is designing flexible car labs that will aid our clients in advancing this ground-breaking technology.

A new space, a new approach

A myriad of partnerships have formed between tech firms like Intel, NVIDIA, Google and Apple with automakers like Tesla, Ford, GM and BMW, not to mention artificial intelligence (AI) companies and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), to push self-driving innovation. Along with a fast-moving industry comes the need to rethink how spaces are designed to support that industry’s most pressing needs. The car labs’ biggest differentiator is the flexibility required to integrate human and automobile functionality (workspaces, labs/R&D/car garage/showroom/demos), as well as private and public considerations (safeguarding intellectual property vs. PR/media opportunities), all under one roof.

The car labs are designed, first and foremost, to support the seamless integration of human and car. Externally, the main consideration is adapting existing spaces originally designed for only human inhabitants, with larger openings to accommodate cars. Internally, a maintenance car garage to run diagnostics with car equipment, tools, consideration of exhaust, lifts and space to move cars needs to be located adjacent to workspace that provides the typical office tools like desks, computers, kitchen/breakroom, collaboration and meeting rooms. It’s important that employees feel as though the spaces are unified so that they can easily move between the different areas throughout the day. As a customer-facing space, lab and workspace, these facilities need to be flexible and multi-modal, balancing a hospitality-like feel with functionality.

Creating buzz, attracting new partners

In this competitive climate, protecting intellectual property is a major concern, but clients also need to be able to showcase their products to create buzz and attract new partners. The car labs are designed with both functions in mind. Security is considered when developing the program and is mainly provided through the incorporation of card readers. The public-facing spaces also need to be “camera ready” and branded for PR/marketing opportunities. Special attention is paid to materiality and lighting in order to create a backdrop that showcases the product for interviews, photography, videography and demonstrations. A major challenge is creating flexibility and privacy for the varied and changing company partnerships and collaborations. Adding dividers that can be tucked or rolled away and curtains to section off or hide spaces creates easily separated and changeable spaces.

Recruitment is another top-of-mind issue for these companies. Gensler is helping partners, Adient, the world’s largest global automotive seat supplier, and Yanfeng, the world leader in automotive interiors, to design offices and showrooms that will attract top talent in a competitive market. A highly collaborative environment is achieved through transparency, casual lounges, generous break rooms and no private offices. Branding elements connect to the companies’ values and culture.

A unique and nimble approach is required to design spaces that are a study in contrast: durable yet polished, public and private, meant for both human and machine. It requires rethinking spaces (garage/office/demo), adjacencies and special consideration of materiality to support a wide range of needs. Self-driving car labs will deliver the flexibility and functionality that our clients need to quickly develop partnerships and solutions that will propel the industry forward.

Claudia Salazar is a senior associate and design director for Gensler's Workplace practice area. Her extensive experience in corporate architectural interiors focuses on delivering designs that enhance the user experience in the workplace. Contact her at Claudia_Salazar@Gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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